WASHINGTON – Six weeks after the historic elections in Iraq,the country still has a long way to go,three Iraqis living in the United States said at a panel discussion Tuesday.
The discussion at the Center for American Progress,a Washington think tank,did not provide answers to the challenges facing the Iraqi National Assembly. Instead,it posed questions that focused the audience of international media and students on what decisions the assembly would soon need to make.
“Liberation was not just about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein,” said Rend Al-Rahim,the executive director and co-founder of the Iraq Foundation. “Liberation turned all the premises on which Iraq was based on their heads.”
“We are talking about a revolution,” said Al-Rahim. “It was once a Sunni-dominated state. Now it is a multi-ethnic,multi-religious country.”
The temporary assembly is to write a constitution that will be put to a national vote in December.
To start off,the assembly must decide how it will organize the distribution of power – if the permanent legislature will be parliamentary,unicameral or bicameral. It must decide how many constitutions to draw up for various provinces and religious groups,the panel said.
Not having the support of all groups or communities in Iraq would make the country's constitution invalid,even if it remains legal,said Laith Kubba,senior program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.
It will count only if it is viewed as legitimate by the people of Iraq,Kubba said.
Even with women holding 30 percent of assembly seats,that's not enough when the population is 50 to 60 percent female,said Nijyah Shemdin,the U.S. representative to the Kurdistan Regional Government,noting another way in which the 275-member assembly does not accurately represent the population of Iraq.
“Iraq has had a wealth of resources that it had not been tapping into,” Kubba said.
“The conservative point of view of protecting women is a setback,” Kubba said. “But I think that with the security situation improving,there won't be any more reasons for holding women back.”
But the forecast for Iraqi solidarity is dim,if not dark,the panel said,when group identity predominates over nationalism.
It is difficult for anyone to speak for all Iraqis because most who suffered cultural and political persecution were attacked not as Iraqis but because of their identities within individual groups,Al-Rahim said.
“They are not persecuted as Iraqis,but as Kurds or as Shiites,” Al-Rahim said.
“Coalition governments are good because they tend to moderate extreme views,” Al-Rahim said,discussing the degree to which give and take between groups in the assembly will benefit the developing political system.
“The fact that elites can agree,it doesn't mean that the people can swallow it,” Kubba said. “So there is a long way to go.”
There is also a high chance that the constitution will be rejected or vetoed by the provinces,he added.
“Under pressure to deliver,the assembly may submit a constitution that is half-cooked,” Shemdin said. “It will be a gradual process. It will be open for change and open for amendment.”